Three years after California passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SMGA), groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs) are now preparing to develop their groundwater sustainability plans (GSPs). These blueprints will outline each basin’s road to sustainability and, to be successful, will require an effective participatory decision-making process.

We tested a participatory process with the Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, a water-limited irrigation district in the Central Valley. First, we worked with district stakeholders to outline the parts of the plan and set measurable objectives for sustainability. The district defined seven management strategies, which the research team evaluated against climate, land use and regulatory uncertainties using a water resources model. Together, we explored model results using customized interactive graphics.

We found that the business-as-usual strategy was the most unlikely to meet sustainability objectives, and that a conjunctive use strategy, with winter groundwater recharge and periphery ponds storage, achieved acceptable measures of sustainability under multiple uncertainties, including a hypothetical pumping curtailment. The process developed a shared understanding of the vulnerabilities of the local groundwater situation and proved valuable in evaluating strategies to overcome them.